Cam’s Solar-Powered Chainsaw

By Cam Mather

This post is part of my  ongoing “solar powered_____ (fill in the blank)___ appliance” series and this time I will discuss my solar-powered chain-saw (because when you live off-grid, everything is solar-powered!)

I’m old enough to remember the Monty Python sketch about lumberjacks, in which they sang, “I’m a lumber jack and I’m okay, I sleep all night and I work all day…I cut down trees. I wear high heels, Suspenders, and a bra.” It was pretty edgy comedy in the 1980s, although it seems pretty tame today. I’ve always wanted to be a lumberjack, from the tree-cutting point of view. We heat our house with wood cut sustainably from our wood lot. The trees die faster than I can use them for firewood. And they release the same amount of CO2 and heat that they would dropping and rotting on the forest floor.

The only real net C02 emission comes from my gas-powered chainsaw that I use to cut the trees down. Luckily on my property I get a lot of help from nature in this area. The wind brings some of the trees down and so do the beavers. Beavers do the dangerous work, cutting them down, and then they trim off the upper branches that they eat. It’s crazy. I just wish they took fewer of the smaller trees.

In my quest to make my home zero-carbon, I’m using my electric chainsaw more and more. I use the gas one to cut the trees in the bush into 3 log lengths and then I use a plastic sled to pull them to the house. Then I use the electric chainsaw to “buck” them, or to make two more cuts to end up with three fire length logs. So I end up doing two-thirds or 66% of the cutting with my electric chainsaw.

Electric chainsaws are a brilliant piece of technology. They just keep working and working. I bought mine 10 years ago for $90. I have used it for 10 years, and in recent years I have used it extensively. I haven’t had to perform any maintenance work on it. I have not changed the oil. I have not had to tune it up. I have not had to replace the sparks or the muffler or the pull cord or the dozens of other things that break on a two-stroke gas-powered chainsaw. It just keeps sawing along tirelessly, working consistently well. And I don’t smell like 2-stroke engine exhaust when I’m done.

The manual labour that this solar-powered machine displaces is phenomenal. When I talk to Ken Snider, who lived in this house 60 years ago and had to cut all of his firewood by hand, I understand why he couldn’t wait to leave this place and get to the city. It was a mind-boggling amount of work.

When Bill Kemp wrote “The Zero-Carbon Car” he kept talking about the advantages of electric motors, about how efficient they are and how much more rugged they are. The documentary “Who Killed The Electric Car” has a great scene in which the mechanic is shown removing all of the parts that an electric car doesn’t need. It was mind-boggling. No oil changes. No tune-ups. No new mufflers and tail pipes and dozens of other parts that break and need to be replaced.

Sometimes you read this stuff but it sort of sails over your head and you don’t really absorb it. Every time I use my electric chainsaw I am reminded again how great electric motors are. I marvel at how I can use the sun’s energy through my solar panels to unleash this awesome cutting power to blast through 18” chunks of oak. People often say we won’t be able to do a lot of things as well when we run out of oil. I agree but also realize that we’ll just have to accomplish some tasks differently and we should still be able to do them fairly well. One hundred years from now when we no longer have the energy to get oil out of the ground, whoever is living here at Sunflower Farm will still be able to use a solar-powered chainsaw to cut the wood to heat this home that was built in 1888. I believe the originals owners would marvel at how much more work I can accomplish by harnessing the awesome power of the sun.

This photo was taken during a “greener” time of the year – our surroundings sure aren’t that green around here right now!

4 Responses to “Cam’s Solar-Powered Chainsaw”

  • Thanks Ed! Are you working with a dealer to design your hybrid solar/wind system? Have you read Bill Kemp’s book “The Renewable Energy Handbook”? It’s the book we published beginning in 1993… the book that we only WISHED was available when we moved here and tried to educate ourselves about renewable energy! It’s available at our business website; We’ve revised and updated it twice and the latest revision was just published in November.

  • Edward Conley:

    I too have been using an electric saw for years(fifteen). i started using them to afford my neighbors some quite and I could store it for months and no worry about tune ups and gas. We have been wind powered since 99′, at that time solar technology was not what it is today.
    Currently we are designing a hybrid solar/wind system for our retirement needs.
    Live free and its’ enjoyable to see your site,
    it will help bring self reliance to the masses.
    Ed Talking Wolf Conley

  • Cam:

    You said no maintenance–don’t you have to sharpen the chain?

    It’s funny but I find that I have to sharpen the chain less often on my electric chainsaw than on my gas-powered one. Not sure if it’s because it’s slower, but yes, I do periodically spend a couple of bucks on files to sharpen the chain.

    What brand is your saw and does it cut rapidly thru 18-24 inch diameter hardwood?

    The saw is a Poulan with a 16″ blade, and I do go through oak larger than 16″ without any problem. It takes longer than the gas one, but on a sunny day, the energy is free.

    Did you ever cut the electric cord by mistake?

    I am extremely careful and I have not done that. I think it’s less likely to occur with a chainsaw than for a lawn mower for example because the saw moves around much less.

  • Chuck Zinser:

    You said no maintenace–don’t you have to sharpen the chain?

    What brand is your saw and does it cut rapidly thru 18-24 inch diameter hardwood?

    Did you ever cut the electric cord by mistake?

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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